Hello? Can you hear me? — I love progress!

Progress. I love progress and am strongly in favor of it, especially when we are progressing backwards. Kind of like technological time travel as gradually, by adding more and better high-tech devices, stuff that used to be simple and problem-free becomes much more complicated, difficult and expensive. The techno-version of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

iphone-whiteLet us travel together back in time to the halcyon days of yore. Not so long ago … the 1970s and 1980s. Even the 1990s.

Remember? We could make telephone calls without worrying whether or not the person on the other end could hear us. Without wondering if we would be able to understand them. That was so cool, wasn’t it? You didn’t have to shout into the phone, wasting half the call yelling “Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me? You’re breaking up. Can you hear me? Hello?”

You could have an entire conversation, from the beginning to end without getting disconnected, losing the signal, running out of battery. Getting dumped out by your carrier. Nobody said “What” even once! Unimaginable, isn’t it? I grew up and in my entire childhood, I do not remember ever having to ask “Can you hear me?” We could always hear. Sometimes, a long distance call had an echo, but you called the operator and they put the call through, no charge. No problem.

We’ve come a long way, my friends A long and winding road.

The other night, my husband and I watched — for the umpteenth time — Meet Me In St. Louis. It’s the old Judy Garland musical. Vincent Minnelli directed it. Great movie, one of our favorites. Terrific songs, Margaret O’Brien about as cute as a kid can be. Nostalgia on the hoof.

The story is set in 1904 when the World’s Fair was coming to St. Louis and telephones in private homes were still the hot new technology. A long distance call from a far away city was a very big deal. Early in the story, the oldest sister Rose gets a long-distance call from New York.

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The phone rings.

* * *

Rose Smith: Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?

Warren Sheffield: Yes, I can hear you. (Pause)

Rose Smith: What did you say, Warren?

Warren Sheffield: Nothing. I was waiting for you to talk

Rose Smith: Oh. Well, did you want to discuss anything in particular?

Warren Sheffield: What?

Rose Smith: I said, was there anything special you wanted to ask me

Warren Sheffield: I can’t hear you, Rose

Rose Smith: That’s funny. I can hear you plainly

Warren Sheffield: Isn’t this great? Here I am in New York and there you are in St. Louis and it’s just like you’re in the next room.

Rose Smith: What was that?

* * *

The next day my friend called.

Me: Hello? Hello? Cherrie?

Cherrie: (Faintly) Hello? I’m in New York … (something I can’t understand) … signal.

Me: Bad signal?

Cherrie: No signal.

Me: How are you?

Cherrie: Tired. Running around.

Me: Miss you.

Cherrie: Miss you too. Having trouble getting a signal here.

Me: We watched “Meet Me In St. Louis” last night. Remember the phone call from New York? We’ve gone back there. Worse. THEY had a better connection.

Cherrie: (Laughter.) You’re right.” (More laughter.)

Me: I don’t think this is progress. (Long pause.) Cherrie? Hello? Are you there? No, you aren’t there.

(Click. Sigh. Pause. Ring. Ring.)

Me: Cherrie?

Cherrie: Can you hear me?

Me: I can hear you, can you hear ME?

Cherrie: Hello? Hello? (Pause, faint sounds.) Is this better?

Me: Yes. A bit.

Cherrie: I turned my head and lost the signal. Boy, was that perfect timing or what?

Me: We couldn’t have done it better if we’d scripted it.

Cherrie: I’ll call you when I get back. I think I’m  losing … (Silence.)

* * *

As I said, I love progress. I most particularly love how advanced technology has made everything so much better. And easier.

A huge pink underbelly

Little things defeat me. An electrical blip — so brief as to go otherwise unnoticed — knocked out the time and date on the clocks and telephones in my house. It was so brief I didn’t realize it had happened until I went to bed and everything was blinking. Don’t you hate when that happens?

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I would have noticed had I been in my office. That computer isn’t a laptop, so an electrical blip knocks out the computer. But I was using the laptop and it just switched to battery. I continued uninterrupted. But all the blinking in the bedroom was hard to ignore. Resetting the clock radio was easy enough, but then … there was the telephone. They are all networked, so I only have to set one and all three reset. It should have been no big deal.

Sadly, I do not get along with telephones. Not mobile phones or landlines. Nor the networked house phones. I can manage a computer and software, but I very quickly discovered I had no idea how to reset the date on these telephones. I was defeated by an AT&T multi-handset system I installed in our home about a year ago. For which the instructions are long vanished.

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Every time something so miniscule defeats me, I am reminded how helpless I am — we all are — in the face of our technology. Even those of us who are technologically savvy have limits. All of us have a technical Waterloo. If anything goes awry with any major system in my house, not only am I helpless, so is everyone else who lives here. Three generations of people who use technology constantly and depend on it utterly. If we were without power for 24 hours our world would collapse.

It’s the huge, soft, pink, underbelly of our modern world. The aliens will not have to defeat us in battle. They just have to knock out our communication satellites and blow up a few power plants. Human civilization goes down like a row of dominoes.

aliens hubble

The image of a spiral galaxy has been stretched and mirrored by gravitational lensing into a shape similar to that of a simulated alien from the classic 1970s computer game Space Invaders Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage/ESA-Hubble Collaboration
Read more: http://www.universetoday.com/100497/nasa-finds-a-space-invader/

The only survivors will be the rural poor, those few who don’t depend on technology because they can’t afford it. Or maybe the survivalists in their compounds. Their lives will go on as before. Not me, though. Probably not you either. It’s just a thought to ponder.

I use a smartphone to make phone calls … I am obsolete.

My husband and I have Blackberry Smartphones. These days, I have the Torch (it was on sale), but Garry still has the Curve. He uses it for email, to track appointments, and to make phone calls. The reason we both wound up with Blackberries and not iPhones was simple: iPhones have pathetic voice quality for making phone calls. So do most smartphones. Blackberry is the only one that seems to care whether or not you can actually hear the voice on the other end.

No one, apparently, makes phone calls anymore, so phone manufacturers aren’t interested in telephone voice quality. Everyone is obsessed by apps. They want to know what apps they can use. They text, play games, take pictures …. but they don’t use the phone as a phone.

In this household, the only thing for which we use our telephones is to communicate and keep our schedules. That’s it. I lack the pointy little thumbs that make texting convenient for younger people. It’s a genetic adaptation I don’t have. My thumbs do thumb-centric things like grasping tools: they are not good for typing except touch typing where they are fine for whacking at the space bar.

Why would I want to do all that stuff on my phone when I have a desktop, a big laptop, a net book, and a tablet? If I want to take pictures, I have two Olympus PEN camera bodies plus 4 high-quality lenses, as well as a small superzoom point & shoot Canon that I keep as backup in my purse. My telephone is good for three things: making and receiving phone calls, synchronizing with Outlook‘s calendar (so Garry and I know who’s going to which doctor and when) and email. He uses it for email a lot more than I do. I prefer a full-size keyboard.

I use a camera for taking pictures and a computer for most everything else. I know that my Torch has a ton of capabilities I never use and I don’t care. I don’t want to use them. Twice I have used my phone to take a picture because it was the only thing available. Otherwise, I like cameras for photography, computers for computing, GPS units for navigation, and telephones for talking to people on ….tada … the telephone.

Unless you are on the road all the time without access to WIFI, what possible advantage do you get by running your world from this tiny device? Why do you even want to? Is it the only mobile device available to you? You mean you don’t have a laptop, netbook, or tablet?

I genuinely don’t understand why anyone feels a pressing need to use a small inconvenient device to do things that are so much easier to do on a bigger device … which they probably already own.

How well do I understand my phone? Enough to do what I need to do. It has good audio for telephone calls! It’s a telephone, you know?

One day, people will discover that they are doing everything the hard way. This is likely to occur when the younger generation starts to hit their late 30s and 40s and discovers they can’t see tiny little objects without special glasses. It happens to everyone and nothing you do will prevent it.

At that point, like a thunderbolt from Zeus himself, an entire generation will realize that it’s a whole lot easier to type on a keyboard, edit graphics and format text on a monitor large enough to see more than a few words at a time and bright enough to tell whether or not the photograph is in focus (what a concept!). They will be shocked by the discovery, thrilled to realize they no longer need to squint at a tiny screen when they could see the whole thing on a big bright high-definition monitor! It will be an international epiphany of epic proportions!

Not only that, but maybe people will remember how nice it is to hear the voice of a loved one, not just see a text or email. We might even rediscover (be still my heart) intimacy. You never know. Human relationships may come back into fashion!

I’m already there.